Leslie Hottiaux

It’s fitting that Kiwi chef and one-time San Pellegrino Best Young Chef Pacific winner Leslie Hottiaux talks so much about community and neighbours. Apero, the Auckland bistro Hottiaux opened with maitre d partner Ismo Koski, is a warm, cosy hangout that welcomes and comforts guests with homely French flavours. For her, the people you break bread with are as important as the bread you break, as demonstrated by her guide to New Zealand’s biggest city.

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An Amazing, Versatile Japanese Restaurant

Cocoro is my absolute favourite restaurant. Makoto Tokuyama is such a talented chef. He’s cooking refined Japanese cuisine. There are a lot of beautiful dishes in beautiful dishware. And the sashimi platter is next level. The quality of fish is always the best possible. It has an amazing wine and sake list. It really turned me into a sake drinker. I love that you can go here for a big-splurge and celebration or just pop in for a low-key lunch. It really is my special place.

A French Restaurant Where You’re Surrounded By Wine

If chefs are visiting, I’ll take them to lunch at Maison Vauron. The chef – one of my old head chefs – is from France, but he loves to cook old-school dishes. Terrines, rillettes, whatever the plat du jour may be on that day: everything on the menu is awesome. It also helps that the restaurant is also a distributor as well. While you eat, you’re surrounded by wine which you can literally pull off the shelf and drink with lunch. It’s awesome, plus we can also do lunch there on a Monday which is the start of our weekend.

An Auckland Game-Changer

When Depot opened years ago, it really set the bar for casual, tasty food. It still crushes it today. It’s not new, but it’s still exciting. The food is so on-point and simple in appearance but so delicious and the service – for how busy it is – is always awesome. I always go for the bone marrow with toast. It’s my favourite.

Cazador. Photography: Courtesy of Emily Raftery

The Best Lebanese Food In Auckland

Gemmayze Street is, without doubt, home to the best Lebanese food in Auckland. The flavours are amazing, and everything is cooked perfectly. It’s just so good. Everything on the menu is good. You start with meze, so things like baba ghanoush, some pita and maybe a fattoush salad. A nice piece of fish is expertly cooked and so full of flavour. The grilled octopus is glazed with pomegranate molasses and served with taramasalata and puffed quinoa. It’s super delicious. And the lamb shoulder is amazing. So are all of the vegetable dishes, like beautifully roasted red cabbage. I really could go on and on. Just make sure you try the baklava. It’s the best baklava ever.

Wild Game In A Refined Setting

Cazador has a totally unique approach to food and the cuts it uses. For instance, my favourite dish is the venison heart. It’s simply grilled and served almost rare with a really nice gremolata. It’s so good. It’s like butter in your mouth. Chef Dariush Lolaiy is very talented and cooks food I love to eat. His charcuterie game is really strong, too. He makes his own cured meats, salami, terrine. He loves to hunt and display taxidermy on the walls in the restaurant. It’s actually like an old house with a garden at the back. It’s used to be his dad’s restaurant, so it’s been around for a long time. It’s one of Auckland’s longest standing family-owned restaurants. The service is perfect and relaxed. They’ve also recently opened a deli where you can buy house-cured and wild game pies.

Lillius. Photography: Courtesy of Lillius

Polished Cooking Minus The Pretence

Lillius is a new-ish restaurant that does everything right without the pretension. It serves beautiful food in a beautiful room, created by a beautiful couple. The food is really polished with a lot of passion and technique. It’s elevated but the service is nice and relaxed.

Where To Eat With Kids

I have a three-year-old and The Grounds is the perfect place to take him to. He gets to play and have fun in the playground, and I get to eat beautifully cooked food that isn’t just burgers and fries. It’s really a place where the parents can have fun, too.

The Coolest Spot In Town

Coco’s Cantina is such a special restaurant, run by beautiful people, who are also our neighbours. I had my first date with my partner there many years ago, and it’s still really special – every time – even after 10 years. They still nail it. In my opinion, it’s probably the coolest joint in town. You definitely go there for the ambiance. It’s super relaxed, super friendly. It’s a great place for the neighbourhood. It’s the type of place where you always run into someone you know.     

Sidart. Photography: Courtesy of Sidart

A Neighbourhood Favourite Serving French Classics           

The Engine Room is a local gem that continues to be amazing and is worth the trip over the [Auckland Harbour] bridge. It’s run by a couple that just keep going. I have a lot of respect for what they do and also how they do it. It’s super classic French cooking. The twice-baked goat’s cheese soufflé is famous, the veal schnitzel is delicious. Service is really polished and staff have great wine knowledge. Working at a restaurant, my husband and I don’t go out much so when we do, we just want somewhere where the food is good, the wine is good, and they take care of you. That’s all I want and this place has got all of it.

Modern Indian With A View

I have really special memories of fine-dining restaurant Sidart. Eating chef Sid Sahrawat’s exciting food is always a great experience. It’s modern Indian cooking that’s technical and incredibly creative. You’re not going to see a curry at this restaurant. The flavours, the spices, it’s a really nice experience. And it’s a beautiful restaurant, too. I love the view. It’s pretty incredible. You have an amazing view of Auckland’s skyline. It’s definitely a great spot to take visitors.

Caretaker. Photography: Courtesy of Caretaker

Drinks After Service

After service, we like to go to GG x Flamingo which is literally right across the road from Apero. Sammy the owner is such a wonderful host and the drinks are on-point. It’s truly a hidden gem.  Pro-tip: next door is the Satya Chai Lounge and there you can find some of the tastiest Indian street food around. What Sammy has done at the Spice Lounge and GG is pretty amazing for Auckland. Madame George, another neighbour, also does great drinks and tasty food. There’s also Caretaker: a small, dark, cosy bar serving bespoke cocktails made by great staff.

My Favourite Late-Night Supper

If we’re going to get something to eat after service, my favourite Chinese dumpling restaurant, New Flavour, is the one. It’s BYO, the food is always tasty and it’s open till 4am. We have to limit ourselves to going once a week otherwise it would surely be more. There’s no tablecloths and the tables are sometimes sticky, but the food is super delicious. I always order the same: beef and coriander dumplings, dried tofu skin with cucumber and crispy pork – that last one is my guilty pleasure.

Apero Food and Wine. Photography: Courtesy of Food and Wine

Our Wine Bar, Our Way

With Apero, my partner and I wanted to create what we think is the perfect place to go out. In a kind of ironic way, we created Apero for ourselves. If we were to go out, we would want to go to Apero but of course, we cannot. We wanted to create something casual and relaxed. The kind of place you can stop by for a glass of wine and a piece of terrine, or you can stay and spend the full night. We want people to treat Apero like it’s their mate’s house. There are no rules here. The food is just as simple. I’m French, so I cook French food. I make all of the charcuterie, the rillettes, the pate, the terrine. We’re famous for the sausage which we sell by the metre, just like you do in France. My partner takes care of the floor and the wine list. Obviously, we have a lot of wine from New Zealand, but you can find bottles from all over the world. That’s what you want when you go to a wine bar, right? You want to travel, and especially this year. I call Apero a wine bar, but a lot of people in Auckland don’t really know what a wine bar is. It’s not Auckland’s idea of a wine bar. The name is Apero Food and Wine, and that’s exactly what it is. Food and wine. It’s not a brasserie. It’s not fine dining. We’re just Apero food and wine.

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